Inside the Legal Battle to Recut Trump Movie ‘The Apprentice’: Why Billionaire Investor Dan Snyder Is Furious With Ex-President’s Portrayal (EXCLUSIVE)

On Monday night, all eyes in Cannes will be on the launch of “The Apprentice,” the high-profile drama that stars Sebastian Stan as a young Donald Trump. The filmmakers and stars haven’t done any press on the ground at Cannes ahead of the film’s world premiere, and few have seen it, with plot details shrouded in mystery.

But one person who has seen it is Dan Snyder, the billionaire former owner of the Washington Commanders who is an investor in “The Apprentice.” And he isn’t happy.

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Behind the scenes, a nasty battle has played out between the Snyder-backed company Kinematics and the filmmakers over the creative direction of the film. “The Apprentice,” directed by Ali Abbasi, covers Trump’s early years when he was mentored by political fixer Roy Cohn (Jeremy Strong) and his marriage to his first wife, Ivana (Maria Bakalova).

Sources say Snyder, a friend of Trump’s who donated $1.1. million to his inaugural committee and Trump Victory in 2016 and $100,000 to his 2020 presidential campaign, put money into the film via Kinematics because he was under the impression that it was a flattering portrayal of the 45th president. Snyder finally saw a cut of the film in February and was said to be furious. Kinematics’ lawyers were enlisted to fight the release of “The Apprentice,” and the cease-and-desist letters began flying. Kinematics president Emanuel Nuñez insists that the creative impasse between his company and the filmmakers didn’t involve Snyder. “All creative and business decisions involving ‘The Apprentice’ have always been and continue to be solely made by Kinematics. Mark and I run our company without the involvement of any other third parties.”

Sources familiar with the back and forth say Snyder took issue with multiple aspects of the film and weighed in on what should be changed. In earlier versions of the screenplay, “The Apprentice” featured a scene where Trump rapes Ivana. One insider, familiar with the scene that is in the current cut, described it as “violent” and “uncomfortable” and follows a fight between the couple. (In a 1989 divorce deposition, Ivana accused Trump of raping her. But Ivana — who died in 2022 — later refuted these claims in 2015, saying, “The story is totally without merit. Donald and I are the best of friends and together have raised three children that we love and are very proud of.”)

Snyder’s attorneys John Brownlee and Stuart Nash, partners at Florida-based firm Holland & Knight, did not respond to a request for comment. A representative for the filmmakers declined comment.

Snyder isn’t the only investor in “The Apprentice.” Justin Trudeau’s Canadian government also put in money, as did the Irish and Danish governments. Kinematics doesn’t own the copyright on the Ali Abbasi-directed film and cannot kill it. (Abbasi is represented by CAA, which was aware of the legal back and forth over the film. The agency and Abbasi declined comment.)

Heading into Cannes, there was intense interest from potential buyers for the film, which is seeking U.S. distribution ahead of the election in November. International sales outfit Rocket Science is shopping the title at the Marche alongside CAA and WME. Complicating matters, Snyder’s Kinematics has a voice in sales negotiations.

The filmmakers have intentionally eschewed any press, wanting the movie to speak for itself. After all, they’ve endured a long haul to the finish line. In fact, it took seven years for “The Apprentice” to make it to the big screen. One financier dropped out after the events of Jan. 6, 2021, when Trump supporters stormed the Capitol following his defeat in the 2020 presidential election. Another opted not to get involved after Ivana Trump’s death.

Despite its title, “The Apprentice” doesn’t chronicle Trump’s years as the star of the hit NBC reality show that catapulted him into the Oval Office. The logline provided to press calls the film “a story about the origins of a system … featuring larger-than-life characters and set in a world of power and ambition.” It adds, “The film delves into a profound exploration of the ascent of an American dynasty. It meticulously charts the genesis of a ‘zero-sum’ culture, one that accentuates the dichotomy between winners and losers, the dynamics between the mighty and the vulnerable, and the intricate psychology of persona.”

It is unclear if Snyder, who is a fixture at the festival where he socializes with other billionaires on his yacht, plans to attend tonight’s premiere alongside the Kinematics team, who will be on hand. He is no stranger to controversy. For years, he ignored calls to change the name of his NFL team, formerly called the Redskins, a term that was offensive to Native Americans. “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER—you can use caps,” he told USA Today in 2013. After initially refusing to meet with Native American advocates about a name change, he relented in 2020, and the team was eventually rebranded the Washington Commanders.

Trump has not yet weighed in on “The Apprentice.” (He did not respond to a request for comment from Variety.) One insider says, “it would be like a gift.” If he does, a press tsunami would ensue, putting the small indie film directly in the national conversation during an election year in which Trump is back on the ballot.

One thing is for certain, the post-premiere celebrations for “The Apprentice” will be decidedly awkward.

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